BBC shows one-sided euthanasia programme

The BBC has screened a documentary in favour of assisted suicide fronted by an MSP seeking to change the law.

Margo MacDonald, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and wants help to end her own life if her condition deteriorates, used the 30 minute Panorama programme to present her arguments in favour of legalised assisted suicide.

It was shown on BBC 1 on Monday, the same day that Mrs MacDonald launched a consultation on her End of Life Choices (Scotland) Bill. The Bill, currently in draft form, would give terminally ill patients the ‘right’ to have help in committing suicide.

  • Read the BBC Editorial Guidelines on “Impartiality”
  • The Bill even goes as far as allowing such a right to children over twelve, or even younger if they are deemed mature enough.

    Mrs MacDonald lodged her draft Bill in the Scottish Parliament on 8 December. The consultation runs until 9 March, after which she may lodge a final proposal. This would need the support of 18 MSPs within a month in order for the Bill to be given parliamentary time.

    The documentary involved a number of emotive personal testimonies from patients who wanted help to commit suicide and individuals who had helped others to do so.

    There were no interviews with terminally ill or severely disabled people who at one time wanted to commit suicide but are now glad they didn’t.

  • Stories of sufferers who are glad they didn’t end it all
  • Although there were interviews with a doctor and a religious leader who defended the current law, Mrs MacDonald’s commentary undermined both of them, with Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s view dismissed as an individual belief that should not be imposed on anyone else.

    The majority of the programme was devoted to voicing the arguments in favour of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

    The view of one British doctor who said assisted suicide would endanger the vulnerable was countered by an interview with a “very ordinary” Dutch doctor who sometimes kills his patients.

    This was presented as evidence that legalising euthanasia would not be dangerous, while the Dutch doctor was praised by the presenter for his “humanity”.

    In October, the BBC’s Today Programme was criticised for holding a ‘debate’ on euthanasia in which a controversial proponent from Australia, dubbed ‘Dr Death’, was invited to discuss the issue with a representative from a leading pro-euthanasia group in the UK.

    As The Christian Institute reported at the time, the result was effectively a seven-minute trailer for the euthanasia cause with the two sides arguing about the best way to help people kill themselves.

    Earlier this week Liz Carr, a disabled woman, wrote in The Guardian newspaper criticising the media for misrepresenting disabled people through the extensive publicity given to the pro-euthanasia lobby.

    In the article she argues: “We are forever hearing about the campaign to assist people to die with dignity, for example, but what about the equally compelling campaign to assist people to live with dignity?

    “Balanced media coverage of this issue is not just essential, it’s a matter of life and death.”

    Rev Ian Galloway of the Church of Scotland expressed alarm at Mrs MacDonald’s views: “When someone is suffering so much that they conclude their life is intolerable, our response and that of society must be to do whatever it takes, in love and at whatever cost to ourselves, to help them find hope and rediscover their potential for living.”

    Proponents estimate that demand for assisted suicide in Scotland, if it were made legal, would be around two per cent.

    But doctors are adamant they should not be required to assist in ending life by an articulate minority, when such a law could endanger many vulnerable people.

    Last week a leading palliative care specialist, Dr David Jeffrey, said that suicidal wishes are often driven by treatable depression or a need for control and autonomy, rather than pain.

    He said: “The question here is not one of the patient’s right to commit suicide, but whether this small group of people who have an exaggerated need for control have any right to demand the involvement of doctors, nurses and pharmacists in their suicide.”

    “You just don’t know what will happen”

    In his book Against Physician Assisted Suicide, Dr Jeffrey tells the story of a former army instructor who was being treated for terminal cancer and was determined to commit suicide.

    After a discussion with the doctor, it emerged that he was missing the Army, and was subsequently taken to watch a passing-out parade of young recruits, where a party had been arranged in his honour.

    “His life was transformed,” Dr Jeffrey said. “He had a purpose and his demeanour completely changed. He died two weeks later, comfortably. People’s lives always have that potential. Even in the midst of suffering there can be change.

    “You just don’t know what will happen.”

    “A different life”

    The Times recently reported the story of Matt Hampson, a former rugby player who was paralysed from the neck down during training and now requires a ventilator to breathe.

    With the help of carers and a custom-built house, he has been able to set up a website, is writing an autobiography and is the patron of a charity for disabled children called Special Effects.

    He says: “I don’t live a bad life, I live a different life. I use my brain more than my brawn now. It has helped me become a more rounded person. I think about things more.

    “I’ve had to grow up quite a bit and do things that most 23-year-olds don’t do.”

    “I’m grateful I wasn’t allowed to end it all!”

    Alison Davis is National Co-ordinator of No Less Human.

    She was born with severe spina bifida, and is dependent on a wheelchair. She is often in extreme pain for hours at a time. She says that for many years she wanted to “end it all”.

    “If euthanasia had been legal, I would certainly have requested it and I wouldn’t be here now,” she says.

    But after several serious suicide attempts, blocked by the intervention of Alison’s friends, she began to change her mind.

    Alison met the disabled children she had been sponsoring through a charity. The experience led her to think, for the first time in over ten years, “I think I want to live”.

    She says: “I’ll always be grateful to the friends who saved my life (though I wasn’t at the time). And I’m especially thankful there was no possibility of persuading my doctors to legally help me die.”

    She believes that disabled people “deserve the same kind of help routinely given to those who do not have a physical condition but who feel suicidal”.

    The BBC Editorial Guidelines on “Impartiality”:

    “we must ensure we avoid bias or an imbalance of views on controversial subjects”.

    “we can explore or report on a specific aspect of an issue or provide an opportunity for a single view to be expressed, but in doing so we do not misrepresent opposing views. They may also require a right of reply.”

    “We take particular care when dealing with political or industrial controversy or major matters relating to current public policy.”

    “we strive to reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under represented.”